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Arthur J Pais
Sarfraz Ahmad still shudders in fear when he recalls that day in August 1999.
Sarfraz and his friend Mudasher Fazal were having a quiet lunch in a Burger King restaurant in suburban Pittsburgh, when two burly men walked up to them.
"Leave this country now or you will die," the bigger of the men told the two doctors. "There's no use for you here. They are coming for you."
The man was also upset to hear Ahmad and Fazal chat in Urdu. "Why don't you speak English?" he yelled. "Get out of this country! All of you will be cleared of this land! Why don't you leave?"
A year later, the two friends came to know more about the man, whose immigrant parents often spoke in a Baltic language in their sprawling Pittsburgh home.
Facing a jury in a Pittsburgh court on Wednesday, Ahmad recalled in a trembling voice how he and his friend reacted to the racial threats, especially after seeing a pistol on the waist of the smaller second man.
"I shouted to my friend, 'Run!' We ran toward the front door," Ahmad testified. They hid by the side of a large departmental store for more than an hour. They did not, however, report the incident to the police, fearing that it would be ignored.
But as Ahmad looked at the man who had threatened him and his friend, the doctor could not but help think their lives were indeed in danger that August day.
The man who made the threats was Richard Scott Baumhammers, who last April went on a racial rampage, killing an Indian, two Southeast Asians, a Jew and an African-American man who was at a gym owned by an Asian. Sandeep Patel, who was also shot, is now paralysed.
Officials paraded a host of witnesses including Ahmad to challenge the defense theory that Baumhammers had suffered from delusions on the day of the murder and he should be considered insane.
The witnesses, however, portrayed Baumhammers as a racist and anti-Semitic hate monger.
Baumhammers sat all through the testimony with an impassive face and avoided eye contact with the witnesses, just the way he had done for more than a week since the trial started.
Leslie Haun, a ex-convict in jail awaiting a trial on new charges, said Baumhammers told him in jail: "When niggers started going to school with whites, it helped design the regime to pollute the minds of our children. It would poison them for years to come."
Haun also told the jury Baumhammers regarded Timothy McVeigh, the man sentenced to die for the fatal bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City this month, and Adolf Hitler as his idols.
In other damaging testimonies, two other fellow inmates who testified yesterday asserted Baumhammers seemed to be faking his mental illness.
"He said he would like to end up in a state hospital, but he would be happy with life [in prison]," Barry L Fiumara testified.
Baumhammers said he killed minorities because "he was really fed up with immigrant people. He said they were very ignorant, selfish and argumentative," Fiumara testified.
The prosecution is asking the death penalty for 35-year-old Baumhammers.
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